Asher Susser & James Sorene

On Sunday, 07 February 2016, BICOM CEO James Sorene was in conversation with Professor Asher Susser. Asher is the Stanley and Ilene Gold Senior Fellow at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Tel Aviv University. His most recent book is Israel, Jordan and Palestine: The Two-State Imperative. They discussed a range of issues relating to the Middle East today, the emergence of ISIS, the new and bolder Iran, what a future Syria may look like and the necessity to take action on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Excerpts from the conversation are included below, with full videos of each question and answer. To read the full transcript, click here.

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Videographer: Chris Eden-Green | Host: Investec Private Banking

ISIS and the disintegration of Syria and Iraq

James Sorene: Islamic State; ISIS; a non-state actor is taking and holding territory over a period of time and causing the disintegration of two established states in the Middle East, Syria and Iraq. How did we get to this point?

Asher Susser: I will try and explain the more immediate background to the emergence of an organisation like ISIS. It isn’t all because of the American invasion of Iraq. It has a lot to do with the manner in which the Arab states were formed in the aftermath of the First World War. It does have something important to do with the consequences of the war in Iraq as a function of the way in which the US did not understand how the Middle East really operates. There is a term that the Americans used… WATCH THE FULL ANSWER

Effects of Iran nuclear deal and events in Syria

JS: How has the nuclear deal and what’s going on in Syria changed things? People talk about a Middle East that has shifted in Iran’s favour, and now it can succeed in its push for hegemony in the region, and that the only person standing in the way is Saudi Arabia and they’re not up to the job. What are your thoughts on that?

AS: The agreement with Iran has various sides to it. One side is the enhancement of Iran’s capacity to pursue its regional ambition because it has improving relations with the West, including the United States. Looking at Arab weakness, it seems as if the Americans have come to the conclusion that, considering this weakness, perhaps Iran is a player and a partner in organising the Middle East rather than the problem: that maybe Iran is part of the solution rather…

Can anyone win in Syria?

JS: Do you think that anyone is actually going to win in Syria? It’s been written that nobody can afford to lose, but no-one has got the strength to win.

AS: It may be that no-one has the strength to win, but what has happened in the last few months is a change. Assad seemed to be losing and the Russians, Iranians and Hezbollah interfered on his behalf, and they’ve changed the run of battle. They are presently winning Aleppo. If they win Aleppo, which seems likely, then Assad will have control of the four main cities of Syria…

What is going to happen in Syria?

JS: I wanted to ask you a question about Syria: if you had to predict what will happen with Syria – say there are peace talks and they actually invite all the different opposition groups to join them – how do you see Syria being carved up?

AS: I would be extremely surprised if the Syrian problem is solved by negotiations in Geneva. I would be stunned by that. In fact as the negotiations go on, the Syrians are doing what they’re doing with the Russians in Aleppo. They’re actually changing the face of the battle as the negotiations continue, putting the rebels in a more or less impossible position. I cannot see how the negotiations…

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict

JS: The last few years have definitely exposed the myth that people used to say, ‘it’s all about the Arab-Israeli conflict’. But we still have a problem. The states established by the UN in 1947 – a Jewish state, an Arab state – never came into being in that way. You said a wonderful line recently, that ‘the Palestinian state has been established but they’ve already split up into two separate entities: Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.’ What do you think is the path that we should be pursuing with the Palestinians?

AS: It is as clear as daylight now – although some people still haven’t caught on – that the Palestinian issue is not the pivot of everything in the Middle East. The problems of the Middle East, ISIS and Syria and everything we’ve spoken about, have absolutely nothing to do with the Palestinian issue. However, the Palestinian issue has a lot to do with Israel and Israel has a lot to do with the Palestinian issue…